As Many As 400 Russian Private Military Contractors Reportedly Operating In Venezuela; With Russians & Cubans Inside Venezuela, Juan Guaido Must Watch His Back & Keep His Head On A Swivel — Especially With Vladimir Putin’s Penchant For Sanctioning High-Level Foreign Assassinations

As Many As 400 Russian Private Military Contractors Reportedly Operating In Venezuela; With Russians & Cubans Inside Venezuela; Juan Guaido Must Watch His Back & Keep His Head On A Swivel — Especially With Vladimir Putin’s Penchant For Sanctioning High-Level Foreign Assassinations
     Eric Sof wrote on the January 28, 2019 website of Special-Ops.org, that as many as 400 members of the Wagner Group, Russia’s ‘Blackwater ‘if you will are operating inside Venezuela, as the country sinks into further chaos. I refer you to Special-Ops.org for the full article. The former Russian military — likely special forces and intelligence personnel, are there, no doubt to support and prop up Nicolas Maduro and his cronies; while undermining Juan Guaido. As Mr. Sof notes, The Wagner Group “consists mostly of former Russian military personnel, who have been involved in clandestine operations in foreign countries,” like the Central African Republic, Sudan, Syria, and the Ukraine.
     Neil Hauer, writing in the August 27, 2018 edition of The Atlantic, “Russia’s Favorite Mercenaries,” noted that “information available suggests an outfit that plays an increasingly crucial role for Moscow both abroad and at home. But even as this strategy has allowed Russia to rack up military successes without risking its own ground forces,” he adds, “it has also created an explosive situation: Skilled soldiers of fortune who take their orders from an oligarch—not from the Kremlin—are playing a central, unpredictable role in shaping Russia’s foreign policy.”
     Mr. Hauer wrote, “though the exact nature of Wagner’s relationship to the Kremlin remains murky, [Putin no doubt wants to try to have plausible deniability] it has demonstrated a growing ability to create headaches for Russian authorities. Its origins,” he notes, “date back to 2013, when an earlier iteration of Wagner known as the Slavonic Corps engaged in a disastrous mission to Syria at the behest of unknown Damascene businessmen. One of the commanders of the Slavonic Corps, a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) colonel named Dmitry Utkin, reemerged shortly thereafter in early 2014, fighting in eastern Ukraine at the head of a GRU-linked outfit called PMC Wagner. It played a pivotal role in major battles there, working closely alongside Russian military forces and their separatist proxies over the next year and a half.”
     “After proving its mettle in Donetsk,” Mr. Hauer wrote, “Wagner joined Moscow’s official intervention in Syria shortly after it began in September 2015, playing a leading role in the capture of Palmyra and Deir ez-Zor. Wagner has functioned as an undeclared branch of the Russian military: Its fighters flew to Syria on Russian military aircraft, received treatment in Russian military hospitals, worked alongside regular Russian forces in operations, and were awarded Russian military medals signed personally by Vladimir Putin. Backed by Russian airpower, Wagner fighters have been instrumental to the Syrian government’s reconquest of much of its territory, spearheading assaults against entrenched Islamic State positions in lieu of ineffective Syrian militias,” he wrote.

     Mr. Hauer observed that “Wagner also offers Putin political insulation. Last year, the Islamic State capturedtwo Wagner fighters in eastern Syria, and paraded them before the camera. Had they been Russian servicemen, the outcry at home would likely have been deafening. Instead, their captivity was brushed aside, with the Kremlin simply saying they were “probably volunteers.”      “But this degree of separation is also a liability,” Mr. Hauer wrote. “Wagner’s forces remain outside the Russian armed forces, following the whims of their master, oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin. In February, 2018, Wagner mercenaries launched a surprise assault on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, eventually suffering hundreds of casualties in a four-hour firefight that saw heavy American airpower brought to bear on the group. The result: a public-relations catastrophe for the Kremlin, which struggled to explain the nature of these mercenaries who had just assaulted U.S. positions, while covering up dozens of deaths. Judging from the haphazard and repeatedly revised Kremlin explanations of the event, it seems unlikely that Russian officials were apprised of the scale of the assault or its targeting of Americans. But Wagner’s position ultimately depends on the mercurial personal relationships among Prigozhin, Putin, and other top Kremlin officials. An earlier argument between Prigozhin and Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in mid-2016 was followed by a sharp reduction in quality of military supplies and air support available to Wagner forces in Syria.”

Mr. Hauer observed that “Wagner seems to exist to push the envelope of what Moscow can achieve in new environments. The central African adventure epitomizes this strategy. It allows Russia to enter a foreign, largely hostile environment with minimal risk, and to exploit both political and economic opportunities there. Wagner appear to have tapped this possibility at the highest level, reportedly serving as CAR President Faustin Touadera’s personal security detail. The withdrawal of hundreds of U.S. soldiers from Africa and widespread antipathy throughout CAR towards the French, the traditional power brokers in their former colony, have left CAR as what one UN official calls a “free country for the taking.” Russia has spent much of the past decade looking to reassert itself globally; following largely successful forays into the Middle East, Africa marks a natural next step for the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Add in the promise of lucrative gold and diamond resources and it’s easy to see why the country would be an attractive target for Moscow (and a profitable one for Wagner).”

     “Despite these hiccups,” Mr. Hauer concluded, “the past year has been an eminently successful one for Wagner. One Wagner-focused discussion group on a Russian social media site has seen a spike of activity the past six months. Many users have expressed their interest in joining, while some heated discussions have emerged. (One commentator, looking to join, was told “this isn’t a fucking game like you think,”to which he responded, “I know what war is, I served in Chechnya.”)
     With these forces now infiltrating into key cities and strategic locations throughout Venezuela, they give Russian President Vladimir Putin a real-time, on-the-ground, actionable intelligence capability; and, the opportunity to shape events and perhaps key people to Moscow’s advantage at a very critical time for the country. With Putin’s history of sanctioning high-level, foreign assassinations, Juan Guaido and his key lieutenants must be on their toes and their heads on a swivel, in case Putin decides to eliminate the threat to Maduro. RCP, fortunascorner.com

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